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Round 5 – Sydney v GWS: The Swans face the world of the zombie apocalypse, the French election and the talent of their neighbour


Coming home from work on Friday afternoon, two kindy-aged kids strike up a conversation over the back of a bus seat, their adults oblivious or pretending to be.


‘What house number are you?’ asks the child behind, accompanied by a grandmother. ‘I’m number 12.’


‘I’m number 2,’ replies the child in front, after a nervous check with Dad.


‘I’m number 12 from Minchinbury. I live in Minchinbury.’


‘I’m 2 from Dulwich Hill.’


They spend some time looking over number 12’s new LEGO set, a yellow submarine with divers, discussing its features. In the first pause, number 12 announces, ‘You know there’s a zombie apocalypse in Minchinbury. It’s starting now.’


Number 2 looks blank. Dad is shaking with what I imagine to be giggles.


‘Do you know why there’s a zombie apocalypse in Minchinbury?’ Number 2 looks blankly at number 12.


‘Here, have the microphone.’ And number 12 tilts his imaginary microphone at number 2’s mouth.


Number 2 answers simply. ‘I don’t know.’


My Cob and I look up Minchinbury. Sydney 2770, directly adjacent to Blacktown, bang in what the Giants would call their heartland. It couldn’t be a more ominous start to Round 5. This week was already being billed as ‘unchartered territory’, brought to Swans supporters by the doleful record of history, the statistical nightmare of a possible 0-5. And it was brought to us, if we were to believe it, by a city in two halves.


I spent the week considering my own two halves. I am born Australian/French. I spent the week considering the electoral brochures of eleven French presidential candidates, weighing up a vote for an ideology I believe in versus a strategic vote to ensure the least damaging result in next fortnight’s second round, and how best to bring those two things as close together as possible.


It’s on my mind as we drive to the game on Saturday. The abandoned shops on Parramatta Road reflect a strangely warm autumn twilight. My Cob pipes up that he really should learn the Marseillaise. So we begin a lesson somewhere around Annandale. ‘Allons enfants de la Patrie …’ and then the lines about the day of glory having arrived and the bloody banner of tyranny being raised against us. By the time we are close to the ground, we are up to the chorus – ‘Aux armes Citoyens!’ – and the call to soak our fields with the blood of the impure.


It’s unlike us to be early into the O’Reilly. The brass band takes off around the perimeter. I flash my Heeney badge at Gwen in Row T. She checks her inside pocket to see who’s still there: Parker, Papley, Cunningham. She’s not sure how long Harry’s got! We watch a new video of her granddaughter, progeny of a Hawk and a Docker, learning numbers with her nan: 26 Parker, 15 Kieren Jack.


The umps are out, knees up. The cheer squad is laying out the banner ropes. Tom Harley’s ready alone on the back row of the interchange. The media men pull at their lapels. And the members who’ve scored the tunnel positions hold up their phones in unison as the players appear from the race. I feel we’re going to win tonight!


And within 45 seconds Captain K kicks our first goal in agreement. Harry sets up Tippett for a second in two minutes. Papley’s on the board in under four minutes. Gwen and I share a wink; it pays to be in her pocket tonight! Tippett flicks it to Lance who coils from 50 for our fourth. This is the best five minutes of football we’ve had all year! But as soon as we say it, it turns. George is still in the contests and Mills is plugging defensive holes, perfectly. But Western Sydney start to clear it and mark it and score. When Lobb and Johnson and Cameron have their own five minutes of fire, the margin has closed like an anemone some Giant has stuck their finger in.


The second quarter gives us a first look at Melican and his full-stretch overhead mark. There’s a bit of swarthy about him. We need a bit of ‘swarthe’. But the Giants continue to spread and goal while our boys play an infuriatingly manual game of rock, paper, scissors with the ball. ‘Kick it!’ we scream from the O’Reilly. And they do, straight to a Giant. There’s a lack of rhythm in our game; it’s not tide between the teams, just relentless breakers from one end. I begin to watch a woman in a red and white striped dress a few seats across devour a bag of fried chicken, ripping and sucking three pieces all the way to the bone. It’s the most mongrel I’ve seen from the red and white all night. The Giants draw me back to the contest with a stream along the wing below and I observe their frightening speed. And the two images collide in my mind to bring visions of zombies and carnage.


Gwen passes the Anzac biscuits backwards at half time. We can hardly chat. We watch the tiny kids in big shorts. Some fan wins one hundred ‘Swans dollars’ in a trivia quiz at half time, despite getting a third of the questions wrong. ‘I don’t think the Swans dollar is worth much right now,’ quips O’Reilly Max.


The zombies take Grundy first. He emerges from a pile with the strangest lump on the side of his head and descends to the rooms below. The quarter teases us with another mark from ‘the Swarthe’ and goals from Rohan, Sinclair and Lance. The run comes in starts, and the contested tally is tightening and the handball game works for a minute. But they’ve forgotten how to be targets and find each other. That first five minutes of football may just be the best we’ll see.


Connie in Row S turns and sighs, ‘It’s going to be a long season!’ But we comfort ourselves with the holidays we might take in September. Gwen and Nigel won the first Qatar Airways tickets in Round 1 and Geneva is lovely in late summer.


‘It’s not over yet!’ insists the Cob.


‘We could hang in Bali with the Hawthorn boys’, suggests O’Reilly Max.


‘Is it too much mindfulness with Kirky?’ continues Connie.


The players loop another party-light string of treacherous handballs round the backline through Hannebery.


‘Let’s just have footfulness!’ laments Max.


And then the zombies take 12. Kennedy is helped from the game, our leader’s blood soaking his own field all the way to the boundary. The tyranny of the Giants is upon us. If they put the microphone in front of me and asked me why, I would answer, ‘I don’t know.’


It mustn’t be easy to play this way in front of thirty-five thousand people. It’s not easy to watch. The stairwells start to fill with folk dragging kids and scarves. Then our ninth goal is Lance’s 800th. It’s worth a moment to celebrate. I start to sing the Marseillaise under my breath until O’Reilly Max reminds me it’s the Lions up next at home. Our mob parts with pursed lips and shrugs, silent nods and waves.


Commentary will have us in a full scale re-build now. It will have John Longmire under pressure. It will have stars past their prime and kids not ready. It will have worrying signs and more statistical impossibility. How fast we move from A to Z in this world. It’s not frame by frame anymore but an emphatic swipe to the left.


The following morning, I stand in an encouraging queue at Sydney’s French school. This presidential election is being billed as France’s great identity crisis. I pass the wait redrawing the game in my mind. Perhaps the Swans are in an identity crisis of their own. Are they weighing up playing a game which they believe in versus a game they have calculated will bring them success based on the league’s recent results? And are they still undecided? Is that what all the hesitation is?


My vote slips neatly into the small brown envelope marked ‘République Française’. I won’t assist the nationalistic rhetoric of tyranny and foreign invasion that is being used to mobilise divisiveness and fear in France right now. Just like I won’t be drawn into some constructed partisanship with Western Sydney. They are no zombies! They look organised and skilful, big, fast and very alive. They might be giants as soon as everyone thinks.


For us, there’s a sixth round next week. I don’t want arms or blood or battalions that bounce back! I don’t need the promise of an apocalyptic reversal of fortune. I just want them to play with heart, overcome their fears and the Blues.






About Mathilde de Hauteclocque

Swans member since 2000, Mathilde likes to wile away her winters in the O'Reilly stand with 'the boys', flicking through the Record and waiting to see the half backs drive an explosive forward movement. She lives in Sydney and raises a thirteen year old Cygnet.


  1. Phil Hill says

    ‘Footfulness’, priceless comment and is now my favourite word

  2. Earl O'Neill says

    Did you have dinner in Leichhardt Mathilde or have you moved house? I can’t see Annandale being on the way from Marrickville to the SCG.

  3. The Zombie Apocalypse is everywhere this weekend MdH. Enjoyed your prose, but I can’t say I have enjoyed any of the matches I have seen this weekend. Cats and Crows and Giants looking better all the time. Dockers are exceeding low expectations – the rest – myeeeeh. Crap footy and crap games.
    As for me – I am off for a stroll in a blizzard. I may be gone a little while.

  4. Intriguing situation in France Mathilde. This is history repeating and repeating and repeating. Division is good if it brings about compromise, and bad if it doesn’t.

    Intriguing situation in the Swans camp at the moment. What’s wrong? A few weeks back I watched Collingwood beat them. Their midfield laboured like tired footballers. In round 3!! It could be the one backward step before the two forward steps. Or it could be the one backward step before the next one! But there is a lot of quality there. I’m waiting for a rebound ala Hawthorn.

  5. John Butler says

    Ok, it is starting to look serious.

    And the football as well.

    Should be a compelling contest next Saturday. 17th spot at stake.

  6. Footfulness! If we can have “alternate facts” infecting the language then surely footfulness can find a place in the lexicon!

    Thanks Mathilde.

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    I reckon at worst it will be a one year dip for the Swans, then a quick rebound. But get some players back and anything can happen this season. Keep those two magical words in mind- ‘mathematically possible’.
    Love the camaraderie in the O’Reilly Stand.
    Watching France with much interest.

  8. “For Twain the river was a capricious text, which punished literalists and allegorists alike for the fixities of their interpretations” Robert MacFarlane. The Old Ways.

    Loving your subtle associations M de H.

  9. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    You’ve dipped into Macfarlane JTH. Superb. To have his words allude to my own is a special joy. Thanks for always getting it.

    I hope it’s not history repeating and repeating Dips. I hope, under the banner of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité,’ the second round brings a visible and audible repair to a wound that has been dehiscing all over the world …

    ‘Somewhere round Annandale’ … we go Crystal St, then Parramatta Rd, Earl. I think of the butt end of Johnson and Annandale and Nelson Streets as Annandale, I suppose,’ The Annandale’ perched right there, ‘n’ all.

    I’ve let O’Reilly Max know of your collective pleasure in ‘footfulness’.

    Enjoy the blizzard PB. Rug up.

  10. Neil Anderson says

    Thanks for the sighting and warning of Zombies that took over the SCG Mathilde. Now that they’re on the move, my greatest fear is that they will reach Canberra by Friday night. Just how do you re- kill the living-dead before they reach the MCG in September?
    Luke Beveridge will have to evoke the Anzac spirit, the glory of winning the preliminary-final in 2016 and the storming of barricades in ’89. Not Paris 1789 but at the Western Oval Footscray in 1989 when the citizens rose up and fought to ensure their club’s survival.
    I’m sure you will be moved when you see the red, white and blue colours on Friday Mathilde as you wait for what is expected to be an usual French election outcome.

  11. Nice write up Mathilde. GWS are more like the ’28 Days Later’ type of zombie; frighteningly fast.

    My theory is the Swans never do well in odd numbered years. I’ll be happy if we see a semi-functioning midfield soon. Something is amiss in the ranks; confidence, loss of form or being comlpetely disheartened by last years result? Who knows but its horrible to watch.

  12. Absolutely superb Mathilda as always love the kids on the bus and the devouring the chicken line and a reminder of the real world as well

  13. Earl O'Neill says

    Mathilde, I’m baffled. Crystal to Parra Rd is north. Try Vic and Enmore Rds to Newtown then down Erko, take the first left past the trainline, straight thru, a left onto Elizabeth, right onto Phillip, left on S Dowling.
    Excuse me, this is like my uncontrollable proofreader. I know every backlane in the inner west and city.
    Great write, thanks.

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